The first vinyl record I bought was the 7-inch, 45-rpm single of "Popcorn" by Hot Butter. Kind of a strange first record for a pre-teen, but it may indicate my lifelong musical interest in the new and innovative. In this case, it's one of the earliest synthesizer recordings to reach a popular audience. Sadly, this disc disappeared at a garage sale, I think, and didn't have a picture sleeve, but it was the start of my passion for collecting music. I'm a big fan of album art that tries to represent the music inside. Here are 10 of my favorite LP covers:
More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
The cover art for the second album from Talking Heads was an idea from David Byrne and created by Jimmy De Sana, a photographer and key figure in the late '70s punk and No Wave scene in New York City. The photomosaic is comprised of 529 close-up Polaroid photographs.
Another Green World (1975)
Created by a true polymath, Tom Phillips, the album art for Brian Eno's classic recording Another Green World is a perfect representation of the postmodern innovations of Eno's groundbreaking album. He was a student of Mr. Phillips, who also composed classical music and introduced him to the ideas that helped Eno develop ambient and generative music.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Brain Salad Surgery (1973)
The album art for ELP's Brain Salad Surgery was created by the surrealist painter H.R. Giger, and is a wonderful example of an album beautifully representing the dystopian music enclosed. Like so many albums in the '70s, the album has a specially designed sleeve, in this case a die-cut cover that reveals another painting beneath. The album also included a cool poster/lyric sheet, another bonus. Giger is also known for the art direction of the Alien movies, as well as album art for Deborah Harry, the Dead Kennedys and Danzig, among others. A Rhino CD reissue in the '90s has an amazing lenticular 3D cover.
Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)
This album and its artwork always remind me of summer. With Yes's environmental lyrical ocean theme and my days surfing Southern California beaches, this album was the soundtrack for one summer in the '70s. Painted by the popular album cover artist Roger Dean, his interpretation of the complex themes and melodies of Tales From Topographic Oceans make this, for me, a complete package as you get lost in the double LP, gatefold artwork as you listen.
Perhaps better than most, Roxy Music understands the value of eye-catching album art that helped build their identity and brand. Their eight studio albums feature beautiful women that seem to enhance singer Bryan Ferry's reputation as a '40s movie idol romantic. Here's one of my favorites—the artwork for the Siren album featuring Ferry's girlfriend at the time, the supermodel and actress Jerry Hall, who left Bryan for Mick Jagger and became mother to four of his children.
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
Doc at the Radar Station (1980)
There have been a number of recording artists who were accomplished painters as well. Many of them created cool artwork for their albums. Along with Joni Mitchell, my favorite at this is Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart. His abstract album paintings capture beautifully the angular, unconventional, outsider approach to both his music and art. Doc at the Radar Station is my favorite album art and recording from Mr. Van Vliet.
Power, Corruption & Lies (1983)
Factory Records is one of my favorite labels for their album art designs by Peter Saville and their incredible recordings. Best known for his iconic package for Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures album, Peter's design for New Order's Power, Corruption & Lies album cover is built around a color-based code. The decoding wheel is featured on the back cover, the code on the front sleeve is "FACT 75." The code for the inner sleeve reads "New Order Power Corruption And Lies." The cover features a reproduction of the painting "A Basket of Roses" by French artist Henri Fantin-Latour. It was chosen by the U.K.'s Royal Mail for a set of "Classic Album Cover" postage stamps issued in January 2010.
Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (1975)
Illustrated by Robert's spouse and sometimes lyricist Alfreda Benge, Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard evokes the playful side of Robert's music, which can be quite serious in his reflections on social justice. Alfreda has illustrated the majority of Robert's albums, as well as those of Wyatt collaborators Fred Frith, Annette Peacock and others.
Van Der Graaf Generator
Still Life (1976)
Despite looking like a photograph of a piece of seaweed or other flora, it's actually a photograph of a branching electric discharge called a Lichtenberg Figure, in this case from an actual Van Der Graaf Generator, and similar to a bolt of lightning. The perfect analogy for the music of VDGG.
Camper Van Beethoven
Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985)
Camper Van Beethoven's debut album was released on Independent Projects Records and designed and printed by Bruce Licher at the label owner's sister company—the acclaimed letterpress Independent Project Press print house. The short run pressings are beautiful, rare and highly collectible, and embody the DIY spirit of the early '80s L.A. independent music scene.
Art of the Album is a regular feature looking at the craft of album-cover design. If you'd like to write for the series, or learn more about our Clio Music program, please get in touch.